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Florida Cop Arrested After Planting Drugs on Drivers

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  • Former Jackson County Deputy Zachary Wester was arrested and charged with 52 counts related to pulling over drivers, planting drugs like meth on them, and arresting them.
  • Nearly 120 cases involving Wester have been dropped, and more are being reviewed.
  • While some victims are pleased with the charges, many others who served time or received probation because of his actions feel that the damage is already done.
  • In one case, a victim lost custody of a child, and in another, a victim was forced to serve a year in rehab.

Wester Arrested

Former Jackson County Deputy Zachary Wester was arrested and charged Wednesday for pulling over drivers for minor traffic infractions, planting drugs on them, and then booking them for possession.

According to a statement from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Wester was arrested on “felony charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment.”

He was also charged with “misdemeanor perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia,” the statement said. Together, Wester faces a total of 52 separate charges.

It is unclear how much prison time he could get. The Washington Post reported that State Attorney William Eddins, who oversaw the case, told reporters Wester could face up to 30 years.

The Tallahassee Democrat said that the racketeering charge alone has a max penalty of 30 years, and the other felonies have max sentences of five years.

However, they also reported Eddins saying that under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, Wester would only face 13 and a half years if found guilty on all charges, noting that a judge could give him more.

Investigation

While Wester was only arrested on Wednesday, the charges against him came as part of a nearly year-long investigation.

Wester was reportedly hired by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in 2016. In August 2018, the Sheriff’s Office asked the FDLE to launch an internal investigation into his conduct after a prosecutor found inconsistencies between his reports and what was captured on his body camera.

Specifically, prosecutors said he turned his body camera off most of the time, and only turned it back on after he had already found the drugs in the vehicles he was searching.

Additionally, in most cases, Wester would pull someone over for a minor traffic infraction and then ask them if he smelled marijuana, which would give him probable cause to search their car.

Despite the fact that Wester would write in his reports that he smelled or thought he saw marijuana, he would usually turn his camera back on to show he found meth.

Even in cases where the people he pulled over actually were suspected of crimes or admitted to having marijuana in the car, Wester still planted the meth, according to the affidavit. 

As a result of the investigation, Wester was suspended on Aug. 1 and then fired a month later. Prosecutors said they would not file charges until the FDLE investigation was complete. 

The investigation took a while because there was a lot of evidence to review. According to the FDLE statement, during the investigation, their agents, “analyzed over 1,300 minutes of recorded video and logged over 1,400 working hours on the case.”  

In that footage, the investigators found one of the few instances where he kept his body camera on during a search.

In that incident, Wester had pulled over a woman named Teresa Odom, claiming her brake lights were not working properly.

In the bodycam footage, Wester is seen holding something that looks like a small plastic bag in his hand. He then puts his hand out of view under the driver’s seat and returns it without the baggy.

Wester later booked Odom for possessing meth.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, deputies who searched Wester’s patrol car during the investigation found “42 pieces of drug paraphernalia, ten baggies of methamphetamine and five baggies of marijuana concealed in an unmarked and unsecured evidence bag in the trunk.”

The Tallahassee Democrat also reported that prosecutors reviewed nearly 300 cases that involved Wester, and dropped the charges in nearly 120 cases, including Odom’s.

However, Eddins said that there was no evidence that Wester planted drugs or fabricated arrests in all of the cases, and noted that the charges are based on his arrests of 11 known victims named in an affidavit, though there might be more.

“Our investigation is ongoing,” he told reporters Wednesday. “There’s a substantial amount of work to be done. But I have no belief that there’s anywhere near 100 victims. We may have identified most of the victims, we may (have) not.”

The Victims

“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Chris Williams, the FDLE Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the case said in a statement.

Though many cases have now been dismissed, for a lot of people, it is too little too late.

In 2017, a man named Benjamin Bowling lost custody of his daughter after he was convicted on felony charges for possessing meth that Wester said he found in his car.

At the time, Bowling had been released from prison a few months earlier and was being drug tested. Bowling also reportedly requested that the Sheriff’s Office turn over the bodycam footage and test the drugs for DNA and fingerprints, but they never did.

The same year, a man named Jeffrey Helms and his girlfriend April Middleton were also pulled over by Wester and arrested for possessing meth.

Middleton reportedly was in jail for a few weeks before being released, but Helms, who had prior charges, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Unfortunately, that is not even where the damage Wester did to the Helms family stops. Jeffrey Helms’ sister-in-law Erika Helms told the Tallahassee Democrat in September that her own brother was also arrested by Wester for possessing meth.

Although his charges were dropped after Wester’s arrest, it was not done until after he was forced to spend a year in residential rehab.

“He’s ruined lives,” Erika Helms told the Tallahassee Democrat. “People are losing their lives, their freedom, their children, their marriages — all because of this one man. It’s not just innocent men. It’s innocent children. It goes a lot deeper than everyone realizes.”

See what others are saying: (The Tallahassee Democrat) (The Washington Post) (Fox News)

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Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations

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The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.


Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter

Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.


Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.

Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.

DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools

On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.

The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.

DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.

At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.

Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance

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News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.


Federal Vaccine Mandate

President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.

While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.

Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective

The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.

Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.

While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab. 

Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective. 

No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.

According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.

While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.

“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)

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Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage

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The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.


Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence

The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.

The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.

The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.

Source: Facebook/ GlockBoy Savoo

Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage

After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.

Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.

Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.

Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.

Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.

In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.

The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.

“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.

“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.

The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.

Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.

See what others are saying: (Heavy)(CBS 58) (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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